Course: 2024-06 – Not Just Farmers: Records, Relationships, and the Reality of Their Lives

Coordinator: Cari A. Taplin, CG


The focus is on North American farming and agricultural ancestors and their families. The course will dispel the myth that our ancestors are “just farmers” without a rich and documented life. Farmers have often been dismissed by the assumption that there is not much to find or to learn about their lives and the issues they faced. The variety of records–often underused or undiscovered–give depth and breadth to the lives of our ancestors. Understanding the history of farming and learning about the unique records of the people, products, and land, will give a deeper picture of what hearty families we descend from. Students will build an “agricultural profile” for their farming ancestors by the end of the week. This profile can help to craft a robust background of their “just farmer” ancestors.

Other Instructors:

Cyndi Ingle
Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, FUGA, FMGS

Student Prerequisites:

This course is for intermediate to advanced researchers. It covers farming in North America. There will be moderate homework for this course. We will discuss the history and the laws for each topic (as applicable).


Computers and a good Internet connection are required. This is not viable on a small tablet or phone. You will get the most out of this course if you have at least a word processor and basic knowledge of spreadsheets using your software of choice.

All times are listed in Eastern Time.
• Refer to your student’s Dropbox for the full schedule, including breaks. (Provided one week prior to the start of the course)
• Live sessions may be subject to schedule adjustments by your course coordinator.

Day Session Title Description Instructor

10 – 10:30 AM

 Introductions Take this opportunity to connect with your peers and gain insights into what exciting adventures await you this week.
Mon 1

10:30 – 11:45 AM

Inventions and Ingenuity: Advancement in Farming Over Time Examine farming advancements over time that impacted our ancestors’ livelihoods. We will look at developments and inventions with farming equipment, seeds, and automation through examining patents and other sources that tell the story of our farming ancestors, some of which never grew beyond a small family farm and those that were built to become large farming businesses still around today. Taplin

12:00 – 1:15 PM

Get Along, Little Doggy! The Agricultural Contributions of Ranches Let’s explore our agricultural ancestors who worked on ranches across the Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, Texas, and the Southwest. First, we will explore the differences between ranches and farms. Then, we will look at cattle drives and sheepherders who wandered the wide open spaces. Records of the ranches and the people help us tell the story about how ranches differ from traditional farming. Taplin

2:15 – 3:30 PM

It All Starts With The Land and Its Records Let’s explore a brief history of land for agricultural use and records created as farmers obtained land (e.g., homestead and timber claims). We will discuss the laws that affected land ownership and the records they generate, including survey systems, land divisions, deeds, landowner maps, and what they tell about the farms and the

3:45 – 5 PM

The Farm: Buildings, Histories, and Special Designations Tell the story Round Barn? Big barn? Roof Type? The buildings may provide ethnic hints. The age and types of farms may reap recognition, thus creating records. Do we envision a typical farm in our minds? Abolish that picture. Be prepared to update the picture in your mind with new knowledge of what the family farm may have looked like. Stuart-Warren
Tue 5

10:30 – 11:45 AM

Bountiful and Fruitful: The Products of Their Labor An abundance of products come from farms: plants, trees, flowers, vegetables, fruits, animals, meat, eggs, milk, butter, fiber, wool, and more. And goods made from those products and sold at farm stands and farmer’s markets, would increase the livelihood of the farming families. We will discuss a brief history of these products and how they developed in regions across the nation. How did our ancestors choose to farm certain crops? How did they decide where to farm? Record and other sources help tell that story. Ingle

12 – 1:15 PM

What Did They Leave Behind? Free Finding Aids to the Rescue Another part of the story of your own family and their friends and neighbors may be in an archive or historical society somewhere, even far away from the farm or ranch location. Diaries, journals, account books, letters, photos, and even marks on the animals tell more details. Experience the rewards found in these, whether from your own farmers or their cohorts. Stuart-Warren

2:15 – 3:30 PM

From Farm to Table: Farmers Going to Market Getting the fruits of their labor to market meant transferring crops, animals, and more from fields and pastures to wagons, to train cars, to boats and ships. In market towns, there were opportunities for social events and attending church, often the ways in which our ancestors met their future spouses. We will explore records and sources for these activities. Ingle

3:45 – 5 PM

In Print: Farming Newspapers, Magazines, and Newsletters Farming family members may be mentioned in the daily or weekly newspaper, but don’t stop there. Articles in farming newspapers, magazines, gazetteers, and other published and online material hold more specific details than everyday news sources. Find out how to locate these unique resources. Stuart-Warren
Wed 9

10:30 – 11:45 AM

Historical Side-Hustles: Other Income Streams of Our Farming Ancestors Farmers often engaged in activities that brought in other income streams, what we might refer to today as “side hustles.” We will look at some of these other jobs, including lumber mills, grist mills, the production of food products like butter and other foodstuffs, and the production of goods from crops and animals such as soap, cloth, yarn, and woven products. We will examine records that give researchers clues about what types of side hustles their ancestors may have participated in. Taplin

12 – 1:15 PM

Farming Outside the Law: Squatters, Tax-Evaders, and Bootleggers We will explore how laws impacted the potential livelihood of our farming ancestors and how they managed to put food on their tables despite those laws. One example is the agricultural needs of liquor production, Prohibition, and the Temperance Movement. Also, struggles over occupying the land or paying unfair taxes. Sometimes the law was not on the side of our farming ancestors. Taplin

2:15 – 3:30 PM

From Farm to Fair to Higher Learning: The History of Agricultural Education The Morrill Act of 1862 recognized the need for ongoing higher education to advance agricultural expansion across the nation. Agricultural education started in small schools and, over time, moved on to agricultural colleges with experimental farming and university extensions. Children grew up in agriculture by working on family farms and participating in 4-H, FFA, and county and state fairs. We will discuss these important advances in farming education and the records generated. Ingle

3:34 – 5 PM

Were They Joiners? Farming Organizations, Clubs, and Unions Farming was a community endeavor. When there were troubles and problematic issues, they found that by joining together, they could more effectively tackle these things. Lack of prosperity, commodity prices, weather and insect problems, and discrimination brought about the existence of farmers’ institutes and clubs, granges, unions, and co-ops. Membership in these often created unique record sets. Stuart-Warren
Thu 13

10:30 – 11:45 AM

Female Farmers: Women’s Issues in Agricultural Families We will examine how laws and societal issues affected our farming female ancestors. We will investigate women homesteaders and farmers, women land-owners, and women’s influence on social issues such as the Temperance Movement and child labor. We will delve into women’s responsibilities and roadblocks in running the farm while the men went off to war, became sick, or died. Taplin

12 – 1:15 PM

When Disaster Strikes: Farming in Conflict with Mother Nature From extreme weather to crop blights, bugs, birds, and the dust bowl, farmers, throughout time, have had to work through these difficult situations. How did our farming ancestors cope with unruly wildlife? How did they survive once-in-a-lifetime catastrophes? Many county, state, and federal programs stepped in to offer some assistance, producing records along the way. Ingle

2:15 – 3:30 PM

Taking Care of the Farmers: Social Programs Benefitting Our Farming Ancestors We will examine the social programs that were developed to help farmers when disaster struck. We will discuss these various relief programs and look at the records they created. We will look at record sets that can be found at the National Archives and at the state level. Taplin

3:45 – 5 PM

Farming Across Cultural Barriers and Divides Ethnic groups, migrant workers, indigenous peoples, and Black farmers and sharecroppers all faced unique difficulties and challenges in addition to those of everyday farming matters. We will explore the history of farming specific to these groups, the discrimination they faced, and the laws that had a well-documented effect on their lives. Ingle
Fri 17

10:30 – 11: 45 AM

Instructor’s Case Studies: Finished Profiles Taplin/Ingle

12 – 1:15 PM

Student Presentations of Farmer Profiles Taplin/Ingle